There is a lot of advice and information about how to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Be sure to look for links on this site to additional help. FOIA requests are made to the federal government. For information held by state or local agencies, you normally will want to proceed under the Iowa Open Records Act.
Before you proceed with a FOIA request, make sure that the information you seek has not already been posted on the web by the agency. Also, be aware that FOIA requests are usually a very slow information-gathering process and are not a good substitute for information that can be gathered by research or a few phone calls. If the information you request contains personal information about others, you'll need to comply with the federal Privacy Act as well.
Freedom of Information Act. Title 5 U.S.C. §5552
Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 to provide the public with access to records from federal agencies in the Executive Branch.
Making a FOIA Request
FOIA gives agencies 20 business days to respond to a request. The clock starts when the request is actually received by the proper department. (If you send a request to the correct agency but the incorrect department, the agency has 10 days to reroute your request before the 20-day time period begins.)
Some records are not available through FOIA. Exemptions are laid out in Section 552(b)1 of the FOIA and include nine categories of records that are exempt from disclosure:
1. Classified national defense or foreign policy
2. Internal rules and agency practices
3. Information specifically exempted by another statute
4. Trade secrets, financial information, and other privileged material
5. Memoranda or letters would not be available to a party in litigation with the agency
6. Personnel, medical, or other files that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
7. Records compiled for law enforcement purposes to the extent that the records could interfere with enforcement, deprive a person of a right to a fair trial, qualify as an invasion of personal privacy, reveal a confidential source or investigation, or could endanger the safety of any individual.
8. Records relating to the examination, operation, or condition of financial institutions
9. Oil well data and certain geological information